At the beginning of 2015 Borderlands was getting ready to close. San Francisco voters had passed an increase in the minimum wage that was going to end the financial viability of the store, probably by the middle of July that year. If not at that point, then the second increase scheduled for July of this year was certainly going to do the job. Although I and the rest of the staff strongly support minimum wage laws in general and we suspected that San Francisco's local increase would be generally positive for the city as a whole, we were trapped by the idiosyncrasy of the book business. Unlike most products, books have a price printed on them. That makes the usual business solution of increasing prices to cover higher expenses impossible for us. Rather than ride the business down into the grave, I and the rest of the staff decided it was better to close quickly, at the time of our choosing and at the top of our game.
Our customers were very much opposed to this and, out of their comments & suggestions and in consultation with the staff, we decided to try an experiment. We would ask that a minimum of 300 people sponsor the store for $100 each. If that many people were willing, it would offset the added expense of the wage increases that were scheduled to raise the wage to $15 per hour by the middle of next year. Since that increased expense would be on-going, a basic assumption was that the sponsorship would need to recur each year.
We outlined a few benefits that we could offer sponsors at little or no cost to the business, and then announced the program. It was an almost immediate success and, last year, we succeeded again. And now, the new year has rolled around and we once again need sponsors. 2015 ended with 844 sponsors. In 2016 the count was 679. Of course, a drop from year one to year two was expected. When closing seemed imminent, people were impassioned and enthusiastic to support us (and I'm grateful to every one of them) but, a year later, some of those people were bound to conclude that they'd made their contribution and it was time to move on to other worthy causes.
What I'm hoping is that we can match the number from last year, or at least come close to it. That will be a sign that what we've created is sustainable over the long term. If the numbers continue to drop, the long-term prognosis won't be known until the numbers stop dropping (or, we'll know when we fail to meet 300 and close).
If you've never been a sponsor, I'd like to suggest you consider it this year. Aside from keeping our doors open, there are some nice things that come along with sponsorship - you'll find a full list here - http://borderlands-sponsors.blogspot.com/p/sponsor-benefits-and-privilidges.html. We also have some sort of sponsor event every month. Last year some of them were - a tour of The Interval and an explanation of the goals and accomplishments of The Long Now Foundation, intimate receptions with authors like Patrick Rothfuss and Charles Stross, a series of presentations about the business of writing and publishing from experts in the field, a tour of the fascinating American Bookbinders' Museum, and a picnic in Golden Gate Park. But, all the neat things we've done with and do for sponsors are just our way of saying, "Thank you" -- sponsorship is an opportunity to support bookstores, independent business, the local character of San Francisco, and our genres.
You can become a sponsor on-line at https://borderlands-books.com/buysponsorship17.html, or you can call 888 893-4008, email email@example.com or come into the store in person.
There's only one thing left to say:
I and everyone else at Borderlands salute the 844 people in 2015 who decided that bookstores matter and that Borderlands mattered enough to save. And we further salute the 679 people who did it again, a year later. And, last but far from least, we salute the people who will do it this time in 2017. We are here today because of you. You have our heartfelt gratitude.
PS In case you're wondering what we're doing with the money from the sponsorships over the 300 we need: the extra money is being put aside so that we can buy a building when our lease expires in 2021. We need $300,000 to $800,000 for the down payment. If we get enough sponsors over the next few years, I think we can make it.